Senate debates

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Business

Rearrangement

6:00 pm

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion to vary the order agreed to earlier relating to the hours of meeting and the routine of business for today.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice standing in the name of the Leader of Government in the Senate, I move:

That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide that a motion relating to the hours of meeting and the routine of business for today may be moved immediately and determined without amendment.

The purpose of this motion, of course, is to enable the important business with which we have to deal before we rise for the Christmas break to be dealt with. We thought yesterday when leaders and whips met in my conference room that we had agreement in relation to these matters. We thought that, through a series of mutual accommodations, we had arranged a sensible program so that the outstanding legislation that is time sensitive or otherwise urgent could be dealt with today. Unfortunately, that agreement has been vacated, as we have seen in the chamber, in the last hour or so, so it is necessary to move this motion.

The bills that remain to be dealt with and are time sensitive are: the VET Student Loans Bill 2016; the Civil Nuclear Transfers to India Bill 2016; the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2016; the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016 (No. 2), the so-called backpacker tax legislation; and the Superannuation (Departing Australia Superannuation Payments Tax) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2016.

The last two weeks have been busy. There is no doubt about that. They have been a great two weeks for the government and a great two weeks for the Senate in terms of the legislative achievements which this government, in the teeth of bitter opposition from the Australian Labor Party, has been able to achieve. Nevertheless, you would have thought that on the very, very last evening of the Senate year, before we exchange Christmas greetings to one another, that there would be at least enough sense of cooperation from the Labor Party to facilitate the discussion of these bills. Nevertheless, that has not been in evidence, as the denial of leave for me to move this motion itself shows.

The Australian public expect us, when we come to Canberra, when we come to parliament as legislators, to conduct the public business in an appropriate manner. When we met in my conference room yesterday afternoon, all of the participants in that meeting, from all points of view in the chamber—opposition, Greens, crossbench and government—remarked that, by comparative standards, the number of bills to be dealt with on the last sitting day was relatively few. It was a very short list. There were only seven packages of bills. We have dealt with some of them and there is absolutely no reason why the Australian Labor Party should now want to filibuster and delay the conduct of the debate in relation to the remaining bills; most of them are non-controversial, at least as between the government and the opposition. But Labor—apparently with its nose out of joint because of the accommodation that has been reached in relation to the backpacker tax—has decided to behave—

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Duniam doing deals with the Greens. We're going to use that in Tasmania.

As we can see from Senator Wong, by her conduct at the table as I speak, Labor have decided to behave not like grown-ups but like spoiled children. It is a great shame. Members of the public—I think there are only about half a dozen in the gallery; we are not being broadcast at the moment—look at this chamber and see us unable to deal on the last day of the sitting year with legislation which is largely uncontroversial but is time-sensitive legislation which the Labor Party actually barely 24 hours ago agreed to deal with in a much more efficient manner. They must hang their heads in shame.

I can understand why the Labor Party is finishing this year on a sour note and grumpy. Nevertheless, the government does need these bills, as the opposition has acknowledged. It is pathetic, frankly, Senator Wong, that you are delaying the chamber that you are delaying debate on these bills through the long and pointless filibuster we saw in the last hour or more. What I call upon you to do, Senator Wong, is to get of the way, let the Senate do its business and then you can depart for your Christmas holidays and hopefully you will come back in a better mood in February.

There I was sharing a joke with Senator Duniam about his new-found friendship with Senator McKim, and get the bile as we always get from Senator Brandis. But we know this is probably his last sitting day, so I can understand he is feeling a little sensitive.

I want to make few points on this. The first point is it was said, somewhat offensively, that there was a pointless debate previously. The general business motion that Senator Hinch moved was in relation to children in protection and the care of children in protection or under protection orders. It is a very serious issue. I do thank Senator Hinch for bringing that matter to the Senate, because I think his advocacy on these issues is well known. So I do not think it is reasonable to say it was a pointless debate. I think that was a somewhat tasteless remark, frankly, from the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

I would like to make this point, too, about cooperation. This is the fourth hours motion in four days—the fourth hours motion in four days. And that is after we have offered them an MPI time, we have given up private senators business, we have given them opposition time to debate their legislation and—

Senator Brandis interjecting

we were very judicious in our remarks in relation to, I think, the two bills that passed before question time in order to facilitate the program. So the high and mighty attitude with which Senator Brandis made his most recent remarks, frankly, is not on point, although we have come to understand that is the only way in which this gentleman knows how to deal with other individuals in this chamber. High and mighty is how he wishes to deal with people, which is possibly why people do not like dealing with him and try to deal with others around him—but that is a different matter.

This is the fourth hours motion in four days. We have continuing chaos in the handling of the program by the government. It is not for us to manage the government's program; it is for the government to manage the program. The fact is that the reason there is chaos in this program is that they have been in chaos on the backpackers tax. Let's call this for what it is. The reason they are in chaos on the legislative front is that they could not work out what their policy was on the backpackers tax. It was 32.5 per cent, and then it was 19, and no-one was ever going to move from that. Then it was 15, and no-one was ever going to move from that. Now it is 15, with a bunch of goodies for the Greens. Oh, Senator Duniam, I am so glad you are here, because we think we should put out a picture of you with Senator McKim, maybe with a love heart around it! You are joined at the hip when it comes to the backpackers tax! We look forward to that! Bothers in arms, shall we say—brothers in arms on the backpackers tax.

But understand that the reason there is chaos on the legislative program, the reason the government needs to move this motion, is that they are in chaos—

6:05 pm

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Because you dishonoured an agreement made in my office at 4.30 pm—

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, please! I understand a bit of interjection, but he has not shut up, actually.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Could you draw breath, at least! At least I draw breath; I do—or smile, or make a joke with Senator Duniam. But he is just relentless, really. Will

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order, Senator Brandis?

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong should address you. She should not address me. But I was merely interjecting that Senator Wong is in breach of an agreement made on her behalf in my office at 4.30 pm yesterday.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

That is a debating point now, Attorney-General. I remind all senators not to interject. And senators should address their remarks to the chair—not through the chair but to the chair.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

What has happened is the government now have to deal with Senator Di Natale, and so they want to change things. That is what has happened. Now, that is business; they are entitled to do that. But we are entitled to say no. That is how it works. So, if you are going to do a deal with the Greens, don't expect us to go, 'Oh, we're so happy that you two, who hate each other, are now going to be'—

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

We don't hate each other.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

well, okay—dislike each other. Senator Cormann, I will take that interjection. He says he does not take them. That is true, because he is very professional in his dealings. But I can tell you a few on your side really do—really do. This is an interesting case of political bedfellows. It is not the first time we have seen it, and, I suspect, maybe not the last. But the point is about Senator Brandis coming in here and again getting very high and mighty and full of indignation. He should tell everybody the reason that the backpackers tax has been a complete, chaotic shemozzle for those on the other side, a complete shambles. And now they have done a deal which will cost the budget more. Brilliant! Brilliant! So, 'We are going to a deal because the angry, shouty Treasurer does not want to deal with the Labor Party, does not want to give Bowen a win'—Chris Bowen a win; Mr Bowen, sorry, Mr President—'so we are going to do a deal with the Greens that costs the budget more. That is the price of Scott Morrison's pride.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

That's Mr Morrison to you.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, Mr Morrison's pride. Thank you for the correction, Senator Brandis! We oppose this. We oppose this suspension. (Time expired)

6:11 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the motion to suspend standing orders simply because it is absolutely critical that the Senate resolve this crisis today. We have to sort this out. We are about to leave parliament and what we face is farmers who are now watching their fruit withering on the vine or seeing mangoes rotting on the ground. Some of them are facing extreme financial hardship. They are faced with the prospect of us leaving this place for the break, with a massive imposition on backpackers, who provide a really valuable contribution to regional communities. At this stage, without us resolving this issue, it is quite possible that we would have backpackers who would be charged 32 per cent tax saying, 'We are not coming to this country.' That is the risk that we face. Farmers have already lost tens of thousands of dollars.

It is true—I agree with Senator Wong; Senator Wong is absolutely right—this has been a mess. The whole thing has been a debacle, right from the moment the proposal was flagged by the government, right from that moment when they made an announcement without any consultation with stakeholders, farmers or some of the peak representative groups, completely blindsiding them, and then during the election refusing to commit to a particular rate and deferring it until the final few weeks of parliament. So it is absolutely critical that we ensure this is fixed, and that is why we will support this motion for suspension.

What we have managed to achieve through this outcome is that backpackers will be taxed, effectively, a 30 per cent tax rate based on super claw-back. let's be clear about what that means. Yesterday we had agreed that we would have a 13 per cent tax rate. Today, the Greens are saying that we will have a 15 per cent rate but there will be a tax claw-back which brings the revenue basically to where we were at 13 per cent under the arrangement yesterday—which was supported by a majority of the Senate. So we have actually achieved that, but not only that. As critical is that is, we know it is important because we know that the money that these backpackers earn really is put back into regional communities. We know that every dollar that is earned is a dollar that can be spent in a regional economy, helping to boost the livelihoods of many people who live outside capital cities.

Now, at the same time as we have seen this wonderful win for farmers, a wonderful win for people living on the land, we have seen a huge pledge, a $100 million pledge, to Landcare. So there is an additional $100 million for Landcare. Landcare is a wonderful organisation. This is a non-partisan initiative. It is grassroots. It is bottom-up. It is the community coming together in regional areas and looking at how they can enhance the environmental values of the land on which they live, some private land, some public land. In short, it is revegetation programs—for example, along creek beds that have been denuded. So we see lots of trees going in, stabilisation of erosion and a whole range of other biodiversity benefits. Sometimes it is weed management. All of those things bring farmers and conservationists together. It is one of those good-news stories, something we should be really proud of. I have to say, as somebody who has been involved with a local Landcare group, that it is a wonderful win for those regional communities to know that there will be additional revenue for them to do the great work that they continue to do. We are very pleased that we secured not just a good win for farmers but a really great win for the environment as well.

I understand that the ALP have some concern about it. In fact I saw the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek, put a tweet out saying that it would have cost the budget less to support Australian Labor's 10.5 per cent backpacker tax than to do a $100 million deal with the Greens. What she is effectively saying is that we managed to achieve more than the Labor Party was able to achieve. We are proud of that. We are very proud of that. We are proud that we are able to get an additional commitment—the $100 million that goes to Landcare—under an arrangement that is good for farmers and good for the community. It is unequivocally good news, and I would like to see the Labor Party support it, because it resolves a conflict that was going on endlessly. It needed a circuit-breaker, it needed some common sense and it needed leadership, and the Greens today have shown that.

I want to pay tribute to the work of both Senator Whish-Wilson and Senator Rice, our agriculture spokesperson and our Treasury spokesperson, for helping us to negotiate this outcome. We are very proud to be standing here today with what we think is a wonderful outcome.

6:16 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I must confess to feeling a little heartened over this fortnight because the Senate has been working in a way that I think the Australian public would expect, and that is in a chamber where the government of the day does not have a majority in its own right. It works with all groupings in this chamber, and what that will mean is that on some occasions we will be successful with the support of the Australian Labor Party with some propositions, as we were with the omnibus savings bill. We acknowledge that, and also their support with the national security legislation.

I should also acknowledge the support and assistance of the Labor Party in the provision of their general business time last week for facilitating the passage of legislation and also the Labor Party's private senator's bill time this morning. I should also acknowledge that the crossbench were supportive of extra hours in the course of this week, and that as a result we had the passage of the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation. I want to acknowledge the crossbench support for that bill and also for the registered organisations commissioner legislation.

We will also, on occasion, work with the Australian Greens. This, tonight, is an example of that. I want to acknowledge the assistance and approach of the Australian Greens in relation to matters we are dealing with this evening.

My point is that Senator Brandis's motion to seek suspension of standing orders in order to move a motion for extended hours to deal with the legislation that is before us is, I hope—depending on the votes—another example of the government working with different groupings in this place. Sometimes all groupings in this place will be as one on certain propositions. But such is the nature of this Senate, as a house of review, that there will be, understandably, many occasions where we take different views. As I said, I am heartened by the last fortnight because this is the Senate working the way that the Australian public intend. The government of the day does not always get its way, and you would not expect that in a chamber where we do not have the numbers in our own right and in a chamber that is one of review.

This will be one of my last opportunities, if not the last opportunity, to speak in this Senate before the end of the year. I would like to acknowledge the cooperation and assistance of all groupings in this chamber that have, on different issues, come together with the government to make sure that we can transact the people's business. I obviously appreciate and recognise that the opposition are not supportive of the particular endeavour that we are seeking to prosecute tonight. But it is my hope that we will have a majority of colleagues support the suspension of standing orders and, if that is successful, support Senator Brandis moving a motion that we do deal tonight with the relatively small number of bills that are before us: the VET Student Loans Bill 2016, on which I do not think there is much controversy: the Civil Nuclear Transfers to India Bill 2016, on which I do not think there is much controversy; and the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2016, on which I do not think there is much controversy.

That really leaves the issue of the moment, which is the backpacker matter. In concluding all those items this evening, there is probably not the need to sit very late. But the substantive motion Senator Brandis will seek to move gives the chamber the opportunity to sit until these items are resolved. Thank you, Mr President, and I encourage colleagues to support the suspension.

6:20 pm

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Here we are again—get to the end of the sitting year and you have a dirty deal being done by the Greens to sell out, once again, at the last minute. Stop doing deals with the Liberals! It ends badly. It always ends badly! Last time you did this you lost a senator. You had one more senator. Last time you threw Senator Simms under the bus. Occasionally in this place you actually have to stick to something, stay firm and stay principled.

I have history as a former general secretary of the New South Wales Labor Party. I know a thing or two about doing deals. Do not do every deal they come to you with; actually negotiate for something better. You did it last time and you have done it again. At the end of last year you went soft on corporate tax. In May this year you went soft on Senate voting reform, and now you are selling out on backpacker tax. Time and time again, this is a Greens party that goes weak whenever things gets tough.

We heard from Senator Di Natale. I will let you in on a little bit of a secret: I am a bit of a fan of Senator Di Natale. I actually quite like him. But every time I want to like Senator Di Natale, every time I want to support him, he always disappoints me. He always end up doing it. I feel like a burnt lover who has been left at the altar. We come up with agreements, we work together, we develop policies and we wrongly work under the assumption time and time again that the Greens are actually going to stand for something, stick to their principles and stick to their agreements. But they are a political party that sell out at the first opportunity. They are a political party that go weak and dumps on their own causes. Why? We heard what Senator Di Natale said himself. He said, 'If we didn't do this, the government would decide.' No. They would have negotiated. That is the point. You stay firm to get the best deal. But the Greens party do not do that any more. They do not stand for anything anymore. The Greens party sell out and go weak at the first opportunity they have.

I do not blame the coalition. They are just trying to get the deal they want. That is their business. It is not surprising. But for a party that purports to be from the centre left to keep selling out to the conservative side of politics whenever things get hard is disheartening. It hurts. Time and time again the Greens make commitments. They do press conference after press conference. I am disappointed. We are getting to the end of the year. We are at the Christmas period. Rather than leaving this place with some Christmas joy and some Christmas cheer, we have a disappointing Greens sell-out. This is exactly what they did at the end of the last session last year. This is what they did that led to the double-D election. They jump up and down about the four One Nation senators, but they would not be here if the Greens had not done one of their dirty deals with the Liberal Party around May this year. In fact, we would probably still have another Greens senator.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

You need a haircut.

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I am going to take the interjection. When Senator Brandis starts going on about my hair, I feel that this is no longer a chamber that is worthy to have the debate that it is about to have. Senator Brandis, this hair envy of yours is very unbecoming of someone of your stature.

On a very serious note, I want to say that this is a bad deal. This is a dirty deal. It is a deal that was done at the last minute. It was done by a Greens party that is too weak to stand up, stay strong and fight for anything anymore. Once again, they have folded to the Liberal Party.

6:25 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Dastyari is a very hard act to follow, but I would like to make just a few comments on this motion. Of course, we will not be supporting the motion to suspend standing orders. What chaos and dysfunction we have seen this week from the government. We have seen complete dysfunction and disarray. We have had four motions to vary hours—that is one per day—to reorder and reorganise because this government cannot keep their program in order.

The Manager of Government Business in the Senate, who I have to say, in the spirit of Christmas, I have enjoyed working with in my short term as Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate, used the words 'working with different groupings in this place'. Well, that sums up this week. Basically the government have been prepared cut a deal wherever, regardless of who it is with and what they want. We saw things like the ABC board meetings somehow rolled into anti-worker, anti-union legislation for the ABCC. That was odd. We then had the water debacle where promises were made. There was no resolution to that. We have had working groups promised. We have had COAG agenda items promised. As someone who sat on COAG for a number of years, I hold grave fears for that being a suitable vehicle for any resolution of that matter. We have had committee references agreed to in an effort to seal deals. Now the government that lectures us about repairing the budget have managed to cut a deal this afternoon that hits the budget in the order of $100 million.

The Greens of course say that that is a win because they have squeezed another $100 million out of a government that supposedly does not want to spend any more money. But this government that lecture us about budget repair and the need to be fiscally responsible on the afternoon of the last sitting day have said, 'You can have whatever you want, Greens.' Maybe they could have got $200 million. We do not know. The government might have been prepared to do that. They have given away COAG agenda items, for goodness sake. I am not sure what value is placed on that and working groups and committee references. So it is $100 million instead of the government swallowing their pride and accepting that the majority will of this chamber has twice resolved 10½ per cent.

We are going to be dealing with a bill in a few minutes that none of us have even seen. I am just printing a copy off now. I will probably have to read the explanatory memorandum as we are debating the bill. There have been two versions of the backpacker bill. We are going to have another new version of the superannuation bill. We have already had two goes at the bill on the passenger movement charge. This is all in an attempt to stubbornly not accept the will of this Senate and the position of the parties within it of 10½ per cent.

So here we are at 6.30. Some would suggest that people have their eyes on the departures out of Canberra Airport and that that is the reason behind this deal being cut. We could have sat tomorrow. We could have taken our time. But, instead, the Greens, perhaps with their bags packed, are ready to go, ready to cheer about $100 million of extra savings—which will have to be found from somewhere. That will be paid for from somewhere, and you will no doubt cut a deal on that as well.

So we are in this position where we are now being forced, again, to debate and pass legislation that has not gone through any scrutiny at all. This is, supposedly, the chamber of review. I agree with Senator Dastyari, and say to the Greens: 'You don't need to solve the governments problems for them. Just because they're incapable of solving their problems, you don't have to place yourself in the position where you solve them for them.' There was a solution for the government—it was to accept the will of this chamber and to negotiate in good faith. They have not done so. We will not be supporting the suspension of standing orders, and we look forward to some long and considered debates on all of the legislation outlined in this motion.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Brandis to suspend standing orders be agreed to.

6:37 pm

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That a motion to vary the hours of meeting and routine of business for today may be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.

I move:

That the question be now put.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the question be now put.

6:41 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the motion moved by Senator Brandis to give precedence to a motion to vary the routine of business be agreed to.

6:45 pm

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That—

(a) government business shall be called on immediately and the following bills be considered till determined:

VET Student Loans Bill 2016

Civil Nuclear Transfers to India Bill 2016

Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2016

Income Tax Rates Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016 (No. 2)

Superannuation (Departing Australia Superannuation Payments Tax) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2016; and

(b) the question for the adjournment of the Senate shall not be proposed until a motion for the adjournment is moved by a minister.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion to vary the routine of business moved by Senator Brandis be agreed to.